From collective government to communal inebriation

This week I will be giving a talk at the 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, which will take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 10-14.

From collective government to communal inebriation in ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Tom Froese

A simulation model of Teotihuacan’s hypothetical collective government has shown that a highly distributed network of leaders could have been effective at ensuring social coordination in the city by means of consensus formation. The model makes a strong prediction: it indicates that this collective mode of government would have been most effective in combination with large-scale communal rituals, especially rituals involving strong alterations of normal mental functioning. These communal rituals could have allowed the sociopolitical network as a whole to escape from the suboptimal behavioral configurations that otherwise tend to result from the interactions between self-interested individuals. In line with this prediction, recently there has been a growing recognition of the existence of communal rituals involving inebriation, even to the point of vomiting and loss of motor control. The current consensus holds that these rituals are based on a mildly alcoholic beverage made from maguey, today known as pulque. However, in accordance with the model’s strong prediction and based on iconographic and ethnographic evidence, I propose that in some cases the beverage was made more potent with the addition of powerful mind-altering substances, in particular delirium-inducing plants from the genus Datura, today known as toloache.

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The Problem of Meaning in AI and Robotics: Still with Us after All These Years

Fittingly published in the 10-year anniversary of the publication of “enactive AI“, here is a critical retrospective piece that at the same time marks a significant departure into new, largely unexplored directions. Exciting times!

The Problem of Meaning in AI and Robotics: Still with Us after All These Years

Tom Froese and Shigeru Taguchi

In this essay we critically evaluate the progress that has been made in solving the problem of meaning in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. We remain skeptical about solutions based on deep neural networks and cognitive robotics, which in our opinion do not fundamentally address the problem. We agree with the enactive approach to cognitive science that things appear as intrinsically meaningful for living beings because of their precarious existence as adaptive autopoietic individuals. But this approach inherits the problem of failing to account for how meaning as such could make a difference for an agent’s behavior. In a nutshell, if life and mind are identified with physically deterministic phenomena, then there is no conceptual room for meaning to play a role in its own right. We argue that this impotence of meaning can be addressed by revising the concept of nature such that the macroscopic scale of the living can be characterized by physical indeterminacy. We consider the implications of this revision of the mind-body relationship for synthetic approaches.

New article: Embodied Dyadic Interaction Increases Complexity of Neural Dynamics

This is the latest installment in my efforts to show that there is nothing mysterious about the possibility that some mental processes are realized by more than one individual.

Embodied Dyadic Interaction Increases Complexity of Neural Dynamics: A Minimal Agent-Based Simulation Model

Madhavun Candadai, Matt Setzler, Eduardo J. Izquierdo and Tom Froese

The concept of social interaction is at the core of embodied and enactive approaches to social cognitive processes, yet scientifically it remains poorly understood. Traditionally, cognitive science had relegated all behavior to being the end result of internal neural activity. However, the role of feedback from the interactions between agent and their environment has become increasingly important to understanding behavior. We focus on the role that social interaction plays in the behavioral and neural activity of the individuals taking part in it. Is social interaction merely a source of complex inputs to the individual, or can social interaction increase the individuals’ own complexity?

Here we provide a proof of concept of the latter possibility by artificially evolving pairs of simulated mobile robots to increase their neural complexity, which consistently gave rise to strategies that take advantage of their capacity for interaction. We found that during social interaction, the neural controllers exhibited dynamics of higher-dimensionality than were possible in social isolation. Moreover, by testing evolved strategies against unresponsive ghost partners, we demonstrated that under some conditions this effect was dependent on mutually responsive co-regulation, rather than on the mere presence of another agent’s behavior as such. Our findings provide an illustration of how social interaction can augment the internal degrees of freedom of individuals who are actively engaged in participation.

Talk on self-optimization in life, mind, and society

Next week Wednesday, March 20, at 5pm I will participate in a discussion of complexity in the sciences, which will take place in the Colegio Nacional of Mexico. The event spans everything from physics to archaeology. I will make some links across disciplines and talk about “Self-optimization in life, mind, and society”.

The Enactive Approach to Habits: New Concepts for the Cognitive Science of Bad Habits and Addiction

Following on from our opinion piece with Christian Schütz, here is the next installment in our development of a better understanding of addiction.

The Enactive Approach to Habits: New Concepts for the Cognitive Science of Bad Habits and Addiction

Susana Ramírez-Vizcaya and Tom Froese

Habits are the topic of a venerable history of research that extends back to antiquity, yet they were originally disregarded by the cognitive sciences. They started to become the focus of interdisciplinary research in the 1990s, but since then there has been a stalemate between those who approach habits as a kind of bodily automatism or as a kind of mindful action. This implicit mind-body dualism is ready to be overcome with the rise of interest in embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive (4E) cognition. We review the enactive approach and highlight how it moves beyond the traditional stalemate by integrating both autonomy and sense-making into its theory of agency. It defines a habit as an adaptive, precarious, and self-sustaining network of neural, bodily, and interactive processes that generate dynamical sensorimotor patterns. Habits constitute a central source of normativity for the agent. We identify a potential shortcoming of this enactive account with respect to bad habits, since self-maintenance of a habit would always be intrinsically good. Nevertheless, this is only a problem if, following the mainstream perspective on habits, we treat habits as isolated modules. The enactive approach replaces this atomism with a view of habits as constituting an interdependent whole on whose overall viability the individual habits depend. Accordingly, we propose to define a bad habit as one whose expression, while positive for itself, significantly impairs a person’s well-being by overruling the expression of other situationally relevant habits. We conclude by considering implications of this concept of bad habit for psychological and psychiatric research, particularly with respect to addiction research.

Invited talk: The problem of meaning in AI and robotics

I was invited to give a talk at the conference cycle of the Cognitive Robotics Laboratory. The conference will celebrate the lab’s 10th anniversary, and will take place Feb. 21-22 at UAEM in Cuernavaca. Here is my title and abstract:

The problem of meaning in AI and robotics

Tom Froese

In recent years there has been a lot of renewed excitement about the possibilities of creating advanced artificial intelligence (AI) that could rival the human mind. I cast doubt on this prospect by reviewing past revolutions in cognitive robotics, specifically the shift toward embodied cognition in the 90s and the recent emphasis on the enactive approach. I argue that despite claims to the contrary, these revolutions did not manage to overcome the fundamental problem of meaning, which was first identified following the various theoretical and practical problems faced by Good Old-Fashioned AI. Similarly, even after billions of dollars of investment, today’s commercial computational systems simply do not understand anything in the way that humans or, so I argue, even the simplest living creatures do. I therefore propose a paradigm shift in how to conceptualize the overall vision and goals of the synthetic method: we should stop aiming to replicate human understanding with AI, and instead focus on helping humans better realize their potential via human-computer interfaces, including robotic systems.

Seminar at Hokkaido University

Next week I will be visiting Hokkaido University, Sapporo, in order to continue my collaborations with Prof. Shigeru Taguchi on enactive and phenomenological approaches to cognitive science.

As part of my visit, I will give a seminar on “schizophrenia as a disorder of affectivity” on Thursday evening, January 17. Details below:

Distinctive movement patterns during embodied interaction by adults with HFA

Our latest analyses suggest that mutual gaze avoidance by people with autism could generalize to mutual touch avoidance during embodied interaction.

Multi-scale coordination of distinctive movement patterns during embodied interaction between adults with high-functioning autism and neurotypicals

Leonardo Zapata-Fonseca, Dobromir G. Dotov, Ruben Y. Fossion, Tom Froese, Leonhard Schilbach, Kai Vogeley, and Bert Timmermans

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be understood as a social interaction disorder. This requires researchers to take a “second-person” stance and to use experimental setups based on bidirectional interactions. The present work offers a quantitative description of movement patterns exhibited during computer mediated real-time sensorimotor interaction in 10 dyads of adult participants, each consisting of one control individual (CTRL) and one individual with high functioning autism (HFA). We applied time-series analyses to their movements and found two main results. First, multi-scale coordination between participants was present. Second, despite this dyadic alignment and our previous finding that individuals with HFA can be equally sensitive to the other’s presence, individuals’ movements differed in style: in contrast to CTRLs, HFA participants appeared less inclined to sustain mutual interaction and instead explored the virtual environment more generally. This finding is consistent with social motivation deficit accounts of ASD, as well as with hypersensitivity-motivated avoidance of overstimulation. Our research demonstrates the utility of time series analyses for the second-person stance and complements previous work focused on non-dynamical and performance-based variables.

perceptual crossing

Summer school “Introduction to Enactivism” in Hokkaido, Japan

Next August I will be one of three instructors in a summer school on enactive philosophy of mind and cognitive science in beautiful Hokkaido, Japan! The other instructors are Shigeru Taguchi (phenomenology) and Masatoshi Yoshida (neuroscience), so this will be a truly interdisciplinary experience.

We are looking for motivated students to join us in this enactive summer school!

Title and abstract below. For more details please see the course website:

Introduction to Enactivism: Moving to Know, Knowing to Move

The aim of this course is to give an introduction to enactivism by lectures and experimental practices. Enactivism is a philosophical view on cognition and experience that Francisco Varela and other scholars developed. According to this view, cognition and experience are not just passive processes, but a kind of ”making up” of reality through our action.

In this course, students can examine to what extent the enactive view of experience is convincing by discussing in the classroom and doing experimental practices using special instruments and devices.

Schedule: 05/Aug/2019 – 09/Aug/2019
Level: Graduate
Language: English

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